These samples must be returned to Earth for analysis. NASA plans to report them by 2033.
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The Perseverance rover has taken an important step in finding traces of ancient life on Mars with the collection of samples “the most precious” so far, containing potential biological signatures whose nature will need to be confirmed once on Earth, NASA announced on Thursday, Sept. 15. If this is not yet proof that life once existed on the red planet, these samples thus far represent the best chance of one day being able to detect with certainty a possible ancient microbial life.
A potential bio-signature may have been produced by the presence of life, but also by some other mechanism that does not involve life. To consider this bio-signature as definitive, these samples will therefore have to be analyzed by powerful laboratory instruments on Earth. NASA plans to bring them back on another mission by 2033. “I think it is safe to say that these will be, and already are, the most valuable rock samples ever collected.”David Shuster of the University of California at Berkeley told a news conference.
Two carrots the size of a little finger, and kept in sealed tubes aboard the rover, were taken by drilling into a rock called “wildcat crest”. About one meter high, it is located in a delta formed about 3.5 billion years ago, where a river and an ancient lake meet. This rock is particularly interesting because it is a sedimentary rock, which appears to have formed when the water in the lake evaporated.
Even “Wildcat ridge” has “a high conservation potential of a bio-signature”David Shuster said. Analyzed separately by an instrument at the end of Perseverance’s robotic arm, the rock revealed the most abundant presence of organic compounds detected in a year and a half mission. These compounds – consisting in particular of carbon, and which may also contain hydrogen – “are the basic elements of life”said Ken Farley, head of the science side of the mission.